“Priest at center of Newark Archdiocese scandal quits ministry” & related articles

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NewJersey.com

on May 02, 2013 at 8:54 PM, updated May 03, 2013 at 7:27 AM

Mark Mueller/The Star-Ledger By Mark Mueller/The Star-Ledger

Michael-Fugee-Kateri-Center.JPG

The Rev. Michael Fugee poses with a teenage girl on a youth retreat at the Kateri Environmental Center in Marlboro. The Star-Ledger has obscured the girl’s face to protect her identity. Fugee has been removed from ministry, a spokesman for the archdiocese said tonight.  

The Roman Catholic priest at the center of a public furor enveloping Newark Archbishop John J. Myers has resigned from ministry, a spokesman for the archdiocese said tonight.

The Rev. Michael Fugee, who attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors in defiance of a lifetime ban on such behavior, submitted his request to leave ministry this afternoon, said the spokesman, Jim Goodness. Myers promptly accepted the resignation, Goodness said.

Fugee, 52, remains a priest but no longer has authority to say Mass, perform sacramental work or represent himself as an active priest, Goodness said. It was not immediately clear if Fugee or Myers would petition the Vatican to remove him from the priesthood altogether, a process known as laicization.

Asked if Myers had requested that Fugee step aside, Goodness said, “I only know that he offered to leave ministry and the archbishop accepted.”

Under terms of a 2007 agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, Fugee is not permitted to have unsupervised contact with children, minister to children or hold any position in which children are involved.

The agreement grew out of Fugee’s 2003 conviction on charges he fondled the genitals of a teenage boy on two occasions. Three years later, an appellate panel vacated the verdict, ruling the trial judge should not have allowed jurors to hear the part of Fugee’s confession in which he described himself as homosexual or bisexual.

The rest of the confession, in which Fugee acknowledged the acts with the teen sexually excited him and that he had committed a “violation,” was not called into question.

To avoid retrial, Fugee entered a rehabilitation program, underwent counseling for sex offenders and signed the memorandum of understanding with the prosecutor’s office.

Earlier this week, The Star-Ledger reported Fugee had violated that agreement, openly engaging in youth group activities at St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck. Fugee is longtime friends with the church’s youth ministers, Michael and Amy Lenehan.

Since the disclosure, Goodness has argued that Fugee did not violate the agreement because he was under the supervision of the youth ministers or other priests.

Tonight, the spokesman sought to clarify his statements, saying that while it was “good” Fugee was under supervision, the priest did not seek permission from the archdiocese before participating in youth activities.

“He engaged in activities that the archdiocese was not aware of and that were not approved by us, and we would never have approved them because they are all in conflict with the memorandum of understanding,” Goodness said.

Fugee, the spokesman added, acknowledged to Myers that he violated terms of the document, an admission that could lead to more trouble for him down the line.

The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into Fugee when The Star-Ledger alerted the agency late last week. Assistant Prosecutor Demetra Maurice, who authored the agreement, told the newspaper Fugee could face civil penalties, criminal charges or both.

Goodness said he believed Fugee continued to live within the archdiocese tonight, but the spokesman said it was not clear if he would continue to do so. The archdiocese is comprised of Essex, Union, Hudson and Bergen counties.

Fugee, who has not been made available for comment, had been named to administrative roles in recent years, first as director of the Office of the Propagation of the Faith, a fundraising position to support missionary work.

More recently, Myers appointed him co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests, drawing criticism from advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse.

The latest disclosures — that Fugee had traveled with members of the St. Mary’s youth group to Canada and attended retreats in Marlboro and along Lake Hopatcong — ignited a new firestorm, particularly after the archdiocese strenuously defended his actions as within the scope of the agreement with law enforcement.

Advocates, joined by several lawmakers, called for Myers to resign, and rank-and-file Catholics inundated the archdiocese with letters and phone calls of protest.

That criticism didn’t diminish tonight despite Fugee’s resignation.

“Father Fugee should have been fired and removed from ministry by Archbishop Myers years ago, not simply allowed to resign today,” said Mark Crawford, New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national advocacy and support group. “There must be consequences for those that enabled his continued access to children.

“If the Archbishop went to such great lengths to protect Father Fugee, then it’s likely he may be protecting others,” Crawford said. “He has failed to be transparent, open and honest, and for that Archbishop Myers must step down.”

Robert Hoatson, a former priest who heads the support group Road to Recovery, joined in that call.

“We welcome Father Fugee’s resignation. Its long overdue,” Hoatson said. “However, it does not relieve the archdiocese of the absolute mismanagement of this issue, and Archbishop Myers needs to do the same thing Father Fugee did. He needs to resign.”

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Priest at heart of Newark Archdiocese sex abuse scandal resigns

NorthJersey.com

Thursday, May 2, 2013    Last updated: Friday May 3, 2013, 8:07 AM

The Record

The Rev. Michael Fugee, the Catholic priest who allegedly groped a Wyckoff boy more than a decade ago and has been at the heart of a storm of controversy that has engulfed the Newark Archdiocese, has resigned from the ministry, the archdiocese said Thursday.

The Rev. Michael Fugee, right, in this file photo from 2001.

FILE PHOTO

The Rev. Michael Fugee, right, in this file photo from 2001.

Fugee, 52, wrote a letter to Archbishop John J. Myers on Thursday afternoon announcing his resignation from his two positions within the archdiocese. Jim Goodness, Myers’ spokesman, said the archbishop accepted the resignation.

The priest, whose 2003 conviction on a charge of aggravated criminal sexual contact was overturned by an appeals court, recently was revealed to have attended several youth group retreats in apparent violation of a pretrial agreement with prosecutors barring him from working with children. In the resignation letter, Goodness said, Fugee admitted to Myers that he engaged in activities that were not part of the agreement with prosecutors and

“were not approved by the archdiocese.”

The revelations last weekend touched off a storm of outrage directed at the archbishop, whose office has defended Fugee, saying he was supervised on youth-group outings with a Monmouth County parish and had done nothing wrong. Myers made the decision in 2009 to bring Fugee back into the ministry.

The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, which brought charges against Fugee that led to a trial, began a new investigation this week into allegations the priest had violated the restrictions outlined in the agreement, which the prosecutor, Fugee and the archdiocese had signed.

State Sen. Barbara Buono, the leading Democratic challenger to Governor Christie, called for Myers to resign, and victims’ advocates and clerics across the country urged an investigation into how the archdiocese has handled the embattled priest.

Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a victims’ advocacy group, on Thursday said Fugee’s resignation was “long overdue.” He said Archbishop Myers should never have returned Fugee to the ministry in 2009 based on a review panel and Vatican office that found no sexual abuse occurred.

“He should have been fired, not allowed to resign after all these years,” Crawford said. “Myers should have done something to act himself to make sure [Fugee] was removed from ministry.”

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said Fugee’s resignation “will not alter our investigation in any way.” He said his office is busy calling people in for statements and continues to seek anyone with information about his activities that may have violated his agreement not to work around children. Investigators have not yet spoken to Fugee, Molinelli said.

Goodness said Fugee has resigned from his positions as director for the Office of the Propagation of the Faith and co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests. Fugee will remain a priest unless the Vatican grants his departure from the role. But he will no longer be able to represent himself as a priest, conduct Mass or perform sacramental work, Goodness said.

He will be moving from his residence within the archdiocese, the spokesman said. Goodness declined to explain Fugee’s reason for resigning, adding that more information would be made available today. He also would not say whether the archbishop had asked for the resignation.

Youth ministers at St. Mary’s Church in Colts Neck, longtime friends of Fugee, invited the priest on several youth retreats in recent years, including one in Lake Hopatcong in Morris County in 2010, another in Marlboro in Monmouth County in September and on pilgrimages to Canada when other priests were unavailable for confessions, the archdiocese has confirmed. The archdiocese did not give him permission or know about the activities until recent press inquiries, the archdiocese says.

Officials in the Diocese of Trenton and the Diocese of Paterson, where some of the retreats took place, have said they did not permit Fugee’s involvement with the youth ministry, and Trenton Bishop David M. O’Connell this week barred Fugee from any future diocesan activities.

A parishioner who made the 2010 trip said the youth ministers apparently acted on their own to recruit Fugee for the retreats, and the Rev. Thomas Triggs never checked that they followed the proper procedures with Fugee.

Fugee was accused of grabbing a 13-year-old boy’s crotch while play wrestling with him on several occasions in his family’s living room during 1999 and 2000. He initially confessed but then recanted at trial, saying he felt coerced by police investigators.

The alleged victim, who declined to comment on the new investigation when reached by prosecutors Tuesday, had testified at trial in 2003 that Fugee “used” him and violated his trust.

A jury found Fugee guilty of aggravated criminal sexual contact, but the conviction was overturned on appeal because the trial court hadn’t fully explained the charge to jurors to conform with a recent rule change.

Fugee entered a special probation program for first-time offenders in 2007 to avoid a new trial. The terms of the program required him to serve a two-year probationary term, undergo sex-offender-specific counseling and have no contact with the victim.

He also signed an agreement with prosecutors and the archdiocese to never again be unsupervised with children, minister to children or work with children so long as he remained a priest. The agreement bars his involvement with youth groups, confessions of children and youth retreats.

When he finished serving probation in 2009, Archbishop Myers returned Fugee to the ministry after a review board examined his case and found that no sexual abuse occurred. A Vatican office confirmed the findings, which are confidential.

Victims’ advocates have criticized Myers for the decision to restore Fugee to ministry, saying it enabled Fugee to participate with the youth ministry, even though he was not assigned to work with children.

Goodness said the review board looked over all of the court records and made a “very thorough” decision. He said the board, whose membership also is confidential, is comprised of “extremely capable and forthright people who are genuinely interested in finding out the facts of the situation.”

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Buono calls for Newark Archbishop’s resignation over defense of molester priest

NorthJersey.caom

Thursday, May 2, 2013    Last updated: Thursday May 2, 2013, 6:33 AM
The Record

The leading Democratic candidate for governor on Wednesday called for New Jersey’s highest-ranking Roman Catholic bishop to step down amid a growing furor over church officials’ defense of a priest who confessed to groping a Wyckoff boy.

Newark Archbishop John J. Meyers

Newark Archbishop John J. Meyers

The Rev. Michael Fugee, right, in this file photo from 2001.

FILE PHOTO
The Rev. Michael Fugee, right, in this file photo from 2001.

In a clash of politics and religion, state Sen. Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, set off a verbal battle with Governor Christie by questioning Newark Archbishop John J. Myers’ ability to lead amid revelations that a former assistant pastor was hearing one-to-one confessions during youth retreats in spite of restrictions barring him from working around children.

Although Christie said he was “disturbed” by the allegations, he called Buono’s intervention “irresponsible” and said he will talk to Myers “to find out his side of the story” before judging the archbishop’s actions. During a press conference in Camden, he accused Buono of poor leadership and for issuing her statement “purely based upon media accounts.”

In response, Buono said “leadership is protecting our children from sexual predators, no matter who they are.”

Jim Goodness, Myers’ spokes¬man, said Buono’s remarks “represent a reckless rush to judgment without having a competent or thorough understanding of all of the facts.”

He declined to respond to the governor’s comments, but said he and the archbishop have maintained a “very good relationship” going back to when Christie was a U.S. attorney and they met on occasion. They had not yet scheduled a meeting as of Wednesday night.

The war of words came amid heightening outrage among parishioners, victims’ advocates and politicians over whether the archbishop should resign because of the controversy.

The New Jersey chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a victims’ advocacy group, called for Myers to step down in a press conference outside the archdiocese headquarters Wednesday. Mark Crawford, the group’s director, demanded an investigation by the National Review Board, an advisory group set up by Roman Catholic bishops in 2002 to oversee the church’s child sex abuse crisis.

“The archbishop repeatedly put kids in harm’s way, and such actions demand remedies,” he said.

An investigation continued Wednesday to determine whether Fugee violated an agreement with Bergen County prosecutors to never again be unsupervised with children, minister to children or work with children so long as he remained a priest. Nonetheless, he attended weekend retreats and extended pilgrimages with the youth ministry of St. Mary’s parish in Colts Neck, in Monmouth County.

Goodness, Myers’ spokesman, continued to defend Fugee on Wednesday, saying Fugee did nothing wrong because youth ministry staff members were supervising him. Goodness said archdiocesan officers have talked with prosecutors and are cooperating with their investigation. He declined to say whether investigators have talked to Fugee, who lives within the archdiocese. Goodness said Fugee did not want to “make himself available [for comment] right now.”

Margaret Franklin, a St. Mary’s parishioner who attended a 2010 retreat with Fugee to Lake Hopatcong in Morris County, said she realized she had been deceived after reading media reports about his past earlier this week.

She said one of the St. Mary’s youth ministers told her and other parents that the victim in Fugee’s 2001 case had recanted his story and he was cleared. Neither of those statements is true.

For me, I felt a great deal of betrayal in the sense we were blatantly lied to,” said Franklin, whose four children have been involved with the youth ministry for more than a decade.

Michael Lenehan and his wife, Amy, longtime friends of Fugee, invited the priest on the 2010 retreat, another in Marlboro last fall and on pilgrimages to Canada when other priests were unavailable for confessions, the archdiocese has confirmed. Fugee was neither assigned to St. Mary’s parish nor assigned to work with youth, and the archdiocese did not give him permission or know about the activities until recent press inquiries, the archdiocese says.

Officials with the Diocese of Trenton, which includes Monmouth County, and the Diocese of Paterson, whose territory includes Morris County, also have said they did not permit Fugee’s involvement with the youth ministry. On Monday, Trenton Bishop David M. O’Connell announced that Fugee was barred from any future activities with the diocese. It remained unclear Wednesday whether Fugee had cleared a background check or participated in sex abuse awareness training required of all Trenton diocese staff.

Franklin said the Lenehans apparently acted on their own authority, and the Rev. Thomas Triggs never checked that they followed the proper procedures with Fugee.

For me, it is totally unbelievable – Mike, Amy and Fugee did this cowboy style, all Lone Ranger, all alone,” Franklin said. “They didn’t go to Paterson to get permission, didn’t go to Newark to get permission. Our priest should have asked if his paperwork is in order, should have been overseeing. That seems to be amiss.”

Neither the Lenehans nor Triggs has responded to requests for comment.

Franklin and some other parishioners have called on all three to step down from the church. But during a tense meeting Monday, which originally was intended for youth group members and parents to plan a event, the pastor defended the Lenehans, insisting that Fugee was supervised at all times and the church was “moving forward,” she said.

The Lenehans defended Fugee at the meeting, saying that he recanted his confession to the alleged molestation, but under questioning from an irate parent acknowledged they knew about his agreement with prosecutors. Some children also praised Fugee, saying he had been “very helpful to their faith in their religion and beliefs,” one mother recalled.

“The kids were all very shellshocked at the moment because this is somebody they liked and trusted,” the parishioner said.

But the mother, who said “anger was flying around the room” during the meeting, said she found the situation “ambiguous” because Fugee had been supervised.

“I believe these people,” she said. “I trust them with my child – they would never put her at risk intentionally.”

Franklin pointedly disagreed.

“[He] did confessions in a private room, which how do you supervise when you’re in a private room?” she said.

Franklin’s 18-year-old daughter, Samara, who attended several trips with Fugee but never saw anything unusual, left the Monday meeting only a half-hour in after a girl shunned her for saying she felt betrayed by him.

“She got verbally attacked by other girls and was told to leave,” Franklin said. “I doubt if she’ll go back. She was told she had no place there.”

Fugee was accused of grabbing a 13-year-old boy’s crotch while play wrestling with him on several occasions in his family’s living room during 1999 and 2000. Fugee initially confessed but then recanted at trial, saying he felt coerced by police investigators.

The boy involved, who declined to comment on the new investigation when reached by prosecutors Tuesday, had testified at trial in 2003 that Fugee “used” him and violated his trust. A jury found Fugee guilty of aggravated criminal sexual contact, but the conviction was overturned by an appellate panel that found that the trial judge should not have let the jury to hear a part of his confession in which he questioned his sexual identity.

To avoid a new trial, Fugee entered a special probation program for first-time offenders in 2007. The terms of the program required him to serve a two-year probationary term, undergo sex-offender-specific counseling and have no contact with the victim.

He also signed the agreement with prosecutors.

When he finished serving probation in 2009, Archbishop Myers returned Fugee to the ministry after a review board examined his case and found that no sexual abuse occurred. A Vatican office confirmed the findings, which are confidential.

Victims’ advocates have criticized Myers for relying on an opaque process that supersedes law enforcement. They say the decision to restore Fugee’s status enabled him to participate with the youth ministry, even though he was not assigned to work with children.

Goodness, Myers’ spokesman, said the review board looked over all of the court records in Fugee’s case and made a “very thorough” decision. He said the board, whose identities also are confidential, is comprised of “extremely capable and forthright people who are genuinely interested in finding out the facts of the situation.”

In the fall of 2010, a judge declined to expunge Fugee’s criminal record.

Email: greenj@northjersey.com
Twitter: Jeff_A_Green

1 Response to “Priest at center of Newark Archdiocese scandal quits ministry” & related articles

  1. Sylvia says:

    One of many big questions here is why Archbishop Myers restored Father Fugee’s faculties? What made him think this predator was fit to hear confessions and offer up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? It seems to me that had Father Fugee not been given faculties he would have been of no use to the little trio running the youth group in a neighbouring diocese.

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